Lately I’ve been listening to mixes from members over at MixWithUs.com.
A number of times I’ve suggested to people that they check their mixes in mono.
To clarify, everybody mixes in stereo. Stereo simply means the mix has two channels (left and right).
A mono mix is simply one channel. You combine (or sum) the left and right channels into a single channel.
Listening to mixes in mono can be very helpful. I’ll explain why.
Whenever you combine multiple signals together (especially similar signals), you run the risk of having phase issues. (See What is Phase?)
When using multiple microphones, whether on an acoustic guitar or a full drum kit, the more mics you use, the more careful you have to be.
As more mics are picking up the same signal, those signals, when combined, can cause cancellations at certain frequencies (if they aren’t perfectly in phase with each other).
When setting up microphones, it can be difficult to hear phase issues if you’re listening in stereo. Listening in mono lets you hear them more easily.
The same applies to mixing. You may have a really cool guitar sound panned to the left, and another great guitar sound panned to the right.
In stereo it sounds amazing, but in mono it suddenly becomes thin and hollow. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’ve found that mixes that sound good in mono sound GREAT in stereo.
This is especially true when dealing with the ever-problematic low end in your mix. You think you’ve done the perfect amount of EQ. The bottom end is full, but not muddy.
Then you check the mix in mono and BAM…it’s all muddy again.
Why? Because the tracks you have panned left and right in your mix all have little bits of low end that you don’t hear as clearly when spread out in stereo.
But when you “fold back” everything to mono, these little bits of low end add up to a big boomy sound.
While listening in mono, make the necessary EQ changes until everything sounds nice and balanced…THEN switch back to stereo. Wow! It’s pretty astonishing how good it sounds.
You didn’t know there were low frequency issues before. Listening in mono pointed it out, then when you fixed it and switched back to stereo, everything sounded cleaner and more professional.
How To Do It
There are lots of ways to listen in mono:
—Pan your master fader L and R sliders to the center.
—Use a plug-in like TT Dynamic Range Meter on your master fader. It has a big “Mono” button.
—Use a monitor management box, like the PreSonus Monitor Station. These have mono buttons on them as well.
Some people would tell me that mixing in mono serves no purpose, since people will always be listening to your mixes in stereo. Good point, but I view mixing in mono as one extra way to discover problems in my mixes.
Sometimes I’ll mix an entire song in mono (on accident), then switch it back to stereo right at the end…and WOW…it sounds amazing. Give it a shot sometime.
Joe Gilder is a Nashville-based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner.Note that Joe also offers highly effective training courses, including Understanding Compression and Understanding EQ.